She hates me! She loves me? Naples Players wrap holiday musical riff around favorite story
There are love interests all over "She Loves Me," a holiday musical written by the team who created "Fiddler on the Roof." Harriet Howard Heithaus, firstname.lastname@example.org; 239-213-6091
The Naples Players has made a list, and is checking it more than twice, for its holiday production.
Holiday appeal? Of course. There's a snowfall right onstage. The entire set gets decked for the holidays. And a Christmas carol will pop up when we're ready to sing during "She Loves Me," the musical that opened Nov. 27 at Sugden Community Theatre (see information box for details).
Romance? Absolutely. "She Loves Me" is the musical version of a 1937 Miklós László love story, "Parfumerie," set in his native Budapest. Its story is so popular that this 1963 musical is the third of four reincarnations.
It emerged on celluloid in 1940 as "The Shop Around the Corner," with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan playing feuding store clerks by day, romantic pen pals by night. A 1949 version, "In the Good Old Summertime," Americanized the tale with Judy Garland and Van Johnson as bickering music store clerks. As late as 1998, it was retooled for the film version most of us know, "You've Got Mail," with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan as bookstore rivals.
What about staging? It's all there. The Naples Players have gone to extremes to make this production perfect. The set design by Alyssa Blanc and Mike Santos opens, booklike, from a bay window street shop into the Art Deco interior, flanked by cabinets loaded with intriguing bottles.
Naples Players brought in Joshua D. Reid, a three-time Tony nominee, to help resident sound designer Brad Van Houten redistribute speaker control so vocals hit every ear at optimum quality. Costume designer Mollie LaTorre and roomful of volunteers rolled out vintage society elegance.
But the music still steals the show in "She Loves Me." The score, in a class above its Broadway peers, is so rich Tim Eaton has come down from Sarasota as a cover conductor for Charles Fornara's 13-piece orchestra. There are virtuoso solo bites for violin and trumpet right in the overture.
A look at the names of composer and lyricist explains that: Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick, creators of "Fiddler on the Roof."
While the musical may have been somewhat hobbled for wider exposure on Broadway because of its holiday genre, people who don't know the play may know the songs of "She Loves Me." Barbra Streisand's version of "Will He Like Me?" was in airplay on adult music stations during her Broadway album years. The title song, "She Loves Me," has been covered over five decades, surprisingly, by more women than men, as "He Loves Me" — Kate Smith, Susannah McCorkle, Kelli O'Hara.
"This musical is a little different for me in that there's not so much dance. But the music is really sophisticated," director-choreographer Dawn LeBrecht Fornara said. "It's a beautiful score, and you want everything you're doing to be at that level."
She can't even choose a favorite: "They're all so good!"
Van Houten, too, had problems choosing, and he listened to every song carefully. Van Houten worked with Reid, a former colleague from New York, to change the routing of the sound system input in Blackburn Hall. As a result, "She Loves Me" will be its most well defined musical.
"We've set up different mixes for every speaker in the house, so we can isolate where vocals are going to be at different times during the show. So it allows us to be precise in where you're hearing sound," he said.
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"But also it's easier us to make sure the sound is nice and full, so even if someone were to cross in front of the speaker onstage we can position the sound accordingly so the audience doesn't suffer, no matter where the cast is onstage," he said.
That kind of fine-tuning requires the luxury of working with another professional, he said: "It was great to bring someone in who does that all the time so he can set that up for us."
It couldn't have come for a better musical, he added. After becoming so intimately familiar with the songs, he decided to choose the title tune as his favorite: "I think 'She Loves Me' is a classic because it becomes a relationship with you and Georg onstage. He's telling us his love story, so that's always a favorite moment for me."
But he can't stop at one.
"I also like 'Twelve Days to Christmas' because it involves everyone on stage, and it's kind of the show-stopper moment at the end of the show. It gets everybody in the the Christmas spirit, and that's so important at this time of year."
Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.
What: The Naples Players' holiday musical production on two feuding clerks who are unaware they are each other's romantic pen pal
When: Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. now through Dec. 22
Where: Blackburn Hall, Sugden Community Theatre, 701 Fifth Ave. S., Naples.
Tickets $45; $35 to subscribers
To buy: 239-263-7990, naplesplayers.org or at the box office